the opposite of silence

the opposite of silence

By Sarah Childers. I come from one of the quietest places on earth. There is a difference between quiet and silence. Quiet feels like being held. It is the contented squeak of something small and furred sleeping curled into itself. Silence is the unsaid, bound and gagged.

The morning after Inauguration Day we waited in a crowd along Jackson Street to join the Seattle Womxn’s March. Behind us, a tofu factory. Across the street, an art school. Above us, blue sky and later, after we had passed, a pair of eagles. 


Photo by Dana Dralle

Photo by Dana Dralle

Because May is for mothers and gardens, a story in two parts about those things and other things too. This is part two. Find part one here.

Tending a garden is fundamentally creating a place...
— The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide

Rooted by Sarah Anne Childers

Two years into my time gardening at Laura's she retired and moved to a small town in the Cascades. She rented out her city home, and I continued to garden in the backyard. The summer Laura retired, her daughter moved back to Seattle, perhaps to stay Laura told me, hopeful. Laura asked if I minded if her daughter visited the garden to pick raspberries. I did not mind. In fact, I hoped to meet her. 

Ever since finding Little’s stone I had imagined Laura’s daughter as a girl in the garden puttering beside Laura as my daughter did now with me, as I had with my mother in her sprawling garden in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. Laura liked that there was a little girl playing in her garden again. She even lent us the tools her daughter had once used - sturdy pint-sized rake, shovel and hoe, the last my daughter's favorite because it was so excellent for whacking the soil, and the poor lilac hedge too when she thought I wasn’t looking.

I didn’t see Laura’s daughter in the garden that summer. At the time I wondered if she came when I wasn't there to nibble raspberries and perhaps search for Little’s stone, which I made sure not to disturb. I wonder now if she knew already what I have come to know in my bones and hands that seek dirt, and that is this: a mother’s garden is more than a garden. I wonder now if that knowledge drew Laura's daughter back or kept her away or perhaps both simultaneously, a push-pull I can appreciate.

My first spring in Laura's garden, I hauled in bags of musky compost to dig into the beds. And then, after whispering a little prayer to whatever deity looked after seed packets, I planted. I had a tentative plan, a fuzzy vision of the possibilities plus a mandate from my daughter that “we grow strawberries and juice and granola bars, mama!” But mostly I made it up as I went, guided by the fantastical whims of a novice and a child (this explains the root beer mint and dragon's tongue beans).

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

I did begin with the demanded strawberries of course, taking my mother’s advice to seek out bare root crowns. My mother visited me at Laura’s garden. I told her about a space in the back bed that I didn't know how to fill, and she came with a carpet of black-eyed susans from her garden wrapped in damp newspaper. A year later she took back to her garden shovels full of soil with calendula starts that had self-sown from seeds I scattered at Laura’s the previous summer, and I felt part of a web that is big and old. Along with flowers and tools and essential props, my mother brought wisdom and faith too. She knew how to grow things - plants and people. She had faith that I could grow a garden, raise a daughter.

I gardened at Laura’s for several years. Sometimes it was exhilarating and sometimes it was tedium, but always the garden was a place to create in ways that were blessedly simple and tangible. Always the garden was a place to feel rooted, solid in the spin. The delicious yield of those five raised beds seemed the point of gardening at the start but in the end they were the bonus round. (But what astonishing bonuses! Sugar pie pumpkins in the fall and snap peas in the spring. Swaths of bitter persian cress that bolted dainty yellow buds. And sprouting from every once bare nook clusters of borage with its star-shaped periwinkle flowers that delighted the bees and fuzzy leaves that tasted like cucumber.) 

Life sped up and filled out, and I relinquished Laura’s garden. It was someone else's turn. I went for a time without my hands in the dirt. This spring I feel the longing again. It is an itch in my hands, fingernails too clean. I long to root. I look west from the balcony of my box in the sky, past the rooftops of my city neighborhood to the Olympic Mountains. I look to my mother’s garden that is more than a garden.

Sarah Anne Childers is the online editor at where she happily toggles between curating creatives as an editor and creatively curating ideas and the words they live in as a writer.

my hands in the dirt

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

Because May is for mothers and gardens, a story in two parts about those things and other things too. This is part one.

My Hands in the Dirt by Sarah Anne Childers

I longed to put my hands in the dirt.

Four springs ago I built a garden in my neighbor Laura's backyard. She had five raised beds made of graying wood. There was a narrow strip along the north fence, a fat square against a thicket of raspberry canes, and in the lawn three identical rectangles like Lego blocks pressed into a green base.

Laura’s house is around the corner from my building. I can make out her roofline from my balcony, but we didn’t meet until she sent a message to the staggeringly long and slow moving wait list for a plot in our neighborhood’s community pea patch. I responded, and that evening after putting my toddler daughter to bed, I went to meet Laura in her backyard. I was not the first. An avid outdoorswoman close to retirement with cropped silver hair and a trace of an east coast accent, Laura had for several years offered up her garden beds for others to cultivate. In return she asked only that we rid the raspberries of the strangling morning glory vines that snaked from under a neighbor’s fence.

Laura gave me a tour. It was twilight, but I saw that the soil was low and sodden from winter rain, and that the weeds had already seeded and were throwing parties and inviting all of their friends. The rotting fence sported rodent-sized holes at the base. The raspberry canes had not been cut back and lay flopped all over the place. Yet I could hardly believe my luck. It looked like possibility to me. “I haven’t been back here in awhile,” Laura admitted, absentmindedly bending to pull tufts of chickweed from the cracks between the pavers while she talked, as gardeners do. “It might be a lot of work,” she said. The garden was work I wanted. I thanked Laura and meant it.

I went to Laura’s the next morning and most mornings after that once I’d dropped my daughter off at preschool. I had the time because I was in the middle of a year of absence from my job at the university and on leave from graduate school. I half-jokingly referred to the year as my sabbatical, like I had earned it. I told myself to use the time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up or to at least make a plan for, you know, life. Instead I read science fiction and fantasy novels, made pot after pot of soup that I gave away to friends, and longed to put my hands in the dirt.

The last of Laura’s gardeners left a mess, and that’s where I started because cleaning up was something I knew how to do. After weeding, I dug down into the beds and among the fat happy earthworms found knobby overgrown root systems of lord-knows-what and heaps plastic plant tags. Unearthing these traces of the gardeners before me was like coming upon relics of a love’s past loves. Fascinated and dismissive all at once, I examined everything, puzzling through what it was and what it meant. Then I had a moment of panic that the previous gardeners had done it (this, gardening) better than I would because what I did not tell Laura is that despite being raised by a master gardener (my mother), I had no clue what I was doing. And then I unceremoniously hucked all evidence of those other gardeners into the compost bin. Ciao!  

I took Laura’s request on the behalf of the raspberries seriously and on hands and knees unwound morning glory vines from the delicate emerging canes, pulling great lengths of the weed from the ground only to find that it rematerialized almost instantly. Under a mass of the stuff, in the corner of the raspberries, I found a smooth pale rock etched with the word Little. Little was a bunny. He had belonged to Laura’s daughter. Laura told me that when Little died, her daughter saved her allowance to commission the gravestone and then buried him between the raspberries and the roses.

Laura’s daughter stamped her girl-child sadness on stone. I wrote mine in black ink on plywood crosses in a graveyard long ago covered by salal and blackberry brambles at the edge of my parents’ property, across the lawn from my mother's garden.

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

Photo by Sarah Anne Childers

The most beloved who have passed are interred in my mother’s garden inside the tall fence meant to deter deer. My grandmother’s ashes in a turquoise urn nestle alongside the remains of Esmeralda the cat, the first being my parents cared for together and my grandmother’s devoted companion in her final days. Cat and grandmother are buried in the garden under a small spruce with dripping branches in a hole I dug in the sideways rain one March home from college. Like Laura’s garden, my mother’s garden is more than an artful collection of plants.

My mother’s garden is cemetery and memorial and raucous riotous celebration of wild creatures and blooms, where death and life interplay, passing the baton back and forth until everyone gets motion sick while the grosbeaks chuckle. My mother’s garden is history, not just a natural history of the land but a family’s history. My mother’s garden is her project, her legacy. My mother’s garden is my inheritance.

(The story continues in rooted.)

Sarah Anne Childers is the online editor at where she happily toggles between curating creatives as an editor and creatively curating ideas and the words they live in as a writer.